Toilet A while ago I wrote that a client often often does not know what he wants until he sees it. I was referring to software development, but this is common across many professional services organization, such as plumbing for example.

This week I had the opportunity to be on the client side of things when we noticed our toilet was leaking. I thought I knew what the problem was. It seemed to me that the toilet was leaking from its base. So I told the plumber that and he came in and tightened the base. No water seemed to be coming from the base afterwards so he left.

Later that evening we noticed that the carpet behind the toilet was still wet. So I looked carefully and noticed the flex tube from the stop valve to the tank was dripping water.

The next day the plumber comes back and he replaces the flex tube and leaves. I take a look and notice it is still leaking. I call him and he returns and finally figures out that the ring where the flex tube’s connects to the tank is the culprit, and replaces the flush valve and other inner components (I’m no expert in toiletology). It took him three trips to fix the problem with the throne.

1st Lesson: Get to the real root of the problem. All in all, the toilet was fixed, but the quality of service was poor. The lesson here is rather than simply assuming the client (in this case me) knows what he wants, take the time to perform due diligence. He is the professional. What do I know about toilets except that they’re great for pondering life’s mysteries.

As software developers, we have to take the time to gather proper requirements and ask the right questions. Our clients certainly know their own domains very well, but they don’t necessarily know a lot about software and how exactly software can help them.

2nd Lesson: Double Check Your Work. Once you do gather requirements and do the job, make sure you succeed in delivering what the clients want. It helps if you define clear acceptance criteria up front. For example, my acceptance criteria were very clear. I want my toilet not to leak. Ideally the plumber, knowing all he knows about plumbing, should be thorough in making sure that requirement was met.